Before we start into the rules themselves it is a good idea to understand where these rules come from. What we commonly call "Rules of the Road" are actually part of a document known as the "International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea" published in 1972 and adopted in the US in 1977 by an international organization called the "International Maritime Organization". In short we call this publication the "1972 Colregs". The publication is broad in scope and defines many things such as the demarcation between International and Inland waters, details of lights and shapes, distress signals and so on. However particular to us it contains what we Mariners commonly call the "Rules of the Road". The rules of the road are divided into two categories, International and Inland. For the most part the world abides by the International rules of the road across the board, that being said within certain boundaries spelled out in the 1972 Colregs the US has also established the Navigation Inland Rules of the Road Act 1980 to be used on US inland waters. Our focus here will be more so the Inland Rules of the Road as we are generally boat on Inland waters in our region unless going off shore fishing etc. The 38 general rules are divided into six sections where all rules in a particular section being related to one another.
Part A is know as the General rules and are as follows:
Note* There are often many parts to a rule, I will speak on the general content of the rule only in order to keep this discussion general in nature.
Rule #1 Application
International Rules apply to all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by seagoing vessels.
These Rules apply to all vessels upon the inland waters of the United States and to vessels of the United States on the Canadian waters of the Great Lakes to the extent that there is no conflict with Canadian Law.
Basically means all vessels navigating at sea or in a waterway are bound by the international rules with the exception of rules provided by another proper authority, in our case the United States Coast Guard which has created an additional set of rules know as the "Inland Navigation Rules Act of 1980". In a nutshell if you are seaward of the demarcation lines as set fourth in the 1972 Colegs you abide by the International Rules of the Road, if you are inland of the demarcation line you abide by the Inland Navigation Rules Act of 1980.